Posted on | November 1, 2012 | No Comments
No One Dies
His mother’s headache developed the day they arrived in Prag.
She babbled insensibly while he pretended to sleep. She got worse with the weather as the torrents of rain became storms of snow and so too did she descend, getting colder and colder, further and further removed from her boy and her world.
For the first few days it was as if someone dragged an eraser through the decaying city, covering the dead bodies, heaps of trash and filthy buildings with a clean layer of white. Perfectly preserving the horrors in a place where no one could see them. But the snow did not stop. They were on the ground floor of the 357 apartment temple. As a result they do not hear the warnings to leave the building when the lobby began to fill with snow.
Presently she is trying to cook rats with matchbooks and doing a terrible job. Food is running low, enough that cracker crumbs have become a precious gift shared between mother and son. She holds him in her arms, unable to get their apartment door to open. She starts digging with her fingers and he helps her and little by little more snow is in their apartment and less is in the doorway. Hour by hour they slowly force their way outside, looking for salvation and finding a snow storm in its place.
Piles of snow clogged the city’s ancient streets, alleys and gutters, hiding the homeless, the wrecked tenements and the drug dens. Amidst this white palace of snow, children played. Their parents watched them closely, waiting, as they had for days, in anticipation of the Priests’ return. Loud drums announce the return of the Priests. He wonders what They are going to say about so many civilians on the streets.
“Why I never,” begins his mother, pointing to another thing she never expected to see in her whole life, tripping over her own feet. She likes exploring, it has been a few weeks since he tricked her to cross the street and began this rather hopeless journey. Usually he feeds on the joy in her eyes and encourages her to explore. Unfortunately what she has never seen is a large group of soldiers that is coming straight for them.
Hey-You’s hand goes to his coat pocket where he keeps his pocketknife.
“Are They coming for you?” she asks.
“No, be quiet, mama,” he whispers gently.
The endless column of cavalry breaks through the icy streets, horses whimpering, as their hooves seek balance, riders straining to stay in the saddle. The soldiers’ eyes are alert, as though hooks have been driven into the corner of their eyelids to keep them from closing, scared what they will remember, too drugged up to blink.
“Are they coming to save us?” asks his mother.
The nervous chuckle escapes his throat. He manages to suppress it, but it’s like trying to hold a bull by the horns. His mother smiles blankly at him and he mimics her, trying to play down his fear.
“Did I make a joke?” she asks.
The leader of the warriors comes forward armored in ash plate, body covered in red gore from head to foot arms, legs and chest and a thousand tiny cuts on his face obscuring any identifying features. Hey-You recognizes him from murals on the walls of his school. Aries is one of the living gods no one has seen in an eternity, and a god who, Hey-You has long suspected, might not actually exist.
Yet here he is.
Hey-You can see that the boys and old men who accompany him are also scarred; only he had to look at their eyes to see the wounds. In moments between inhalations, as the drugs pause in their blood stream, Hey-You can see the fear in their eyes not just of Aries but also of what they will become..
Hey-You is laughing and cannot control it.
He knows laughing is a bad idea but he cannot stop himself. It is too funny. People are smiling. They think this is a good thing. It is fair to mention that New Olympians are not known for their rationality. Priests pass out drugs to parents and children from the prayer box coming ever closer to Hey-You and his mother.
Hey-You whispers, “We are all about to die.”
“What?” she asks.
His hand massages the pocketknife. Tongues are extended and wafers filled with amephantines are placed carefully in the mouths of worshippers. The Priests are slowly moving closer, advancing on both sides. Within moments they will reach Hey-You.
“Stand close to me,” says Hey-You.
“Don’t worry,” she says, taking a series of rapid breaths, approaching hyperventilating panic.
He wraps his tiny digits around her adult hand. “Hold my hand and do not let go.”
“The gods have returned,” confirm the thousand Heralds with one voice.
“Kneel! For the gods have returned.”
“He’s just a man,” says his mother much louder than he would have liked.
Aries looks at the crowd and a tear falls down his blood-streaked face.
“Get to your knees,” whispers Hey You.
“Get to your knees,” she says urgently. “I’ll keep you safe.” She often mimics him and he pretends she said it first so that she can be the parent. Only she does not move and he has to drag her down and she is too strong.
Hey-You pulls on her arm; still, she does not move. He does it more forcefully, putting all his body weight into pushing her down and she falls to the ground dragging him with her. He has a bad habit of falling when she does.
Aries whispers, and the sound of his whisper spread and grow like a sonic wave. This is probably due to the microphone strapped to the ruins of his neck. “I have come to warn you,” he tells the gathered crowd. “Our judgment has arrived. If you wish to live you can no longer hide in these cities. You must return to our old kingdom in the Fallen Lands for safety. The journey will be perilous, but the gods have returned to guide you. Have faith in us.”
The thousand Heralds echo his words.
“He’s just a man,” his mother whispers again to Hey-You.
“Have faith in us,” says Aries, and this time his voice has a threatening edge. “You may think you see an army of tired boys and old men. You may think you see before you a man and two beautiful women. But I am Aries and these are my sisters, Aphrodite and Athena. The Gods have returned. We will save you!”
“They will save you,” shout the Heralds.
“We will bring you joy,” declares one of the women, judging from her scanty clothes, might just be pretending to be the wanton goddess Aphrodite.
The army of new recruits and insane fanatics wail in her honor.
“They will bring you joy,” shouts the Heralds.
“We will bring you silence,” declares Athena.
The Heralds, confused, take a few seconds to respond. They open their mouths to echo, but Athena shakes her finger at them.
His mother giggles sanely amidst the madness. The crowd is on its knees. The drumbeat intensifies. Prostitutes and Priests move through the crowd, touching and caressing to seduce little girls and women to join them in the march to the Fallen Lands. Aries’ own acolytes walk through the crowd, carrying basins of blood, dabbing boys and men’s faces in the holy substance, inducting them into the army.
“Face paints darling,” says his mother and takes his arm. “You have to do what they want or they will notice you.”
Aries motions to the crowd and the river of humanity again goes still. “These are not men but my very arms,” he declares. He draws his sword and the legions of boys and cripples follow suit, moving like extensions of his arms, bringing their swords up and down.
“We must make it to Basileus, last surviving port of New Olympia,” Aries tells the crowd. “Boats wait to convey this army over the sea. You must have faith in us.”
“And we need you to have love for me,” adds Aphrodite. Strangely, to Hey-You, she looks like his mother. “On your knees, to attend my pleasure.”
The crowd drops to their knees.
Athena, the other sister, says nothing. She merely smiles. Athena knows there is power in mystery.
“Come children,” Aphrodite continues in her most God-like tone. “We need your sacrifices for the journey ahead. Come to Aphrodite and be blessed by a goddesses’ love.”
Parents push their children forward. A couple of particularly stupid or brave children try to get to the front of the line. They all want to be the first to be blessed by the Goddess. She opens her mouth and blows them a kiss.
Her lush lipped acolytes begin kissing the children on their cheeks and lips, preparing the little girls for adulthood as black widows prepare their husbands for their wedding night.
“You have to go,” says his mother.
He is on the edge of the crowd of children, being pushed forward by his mother’s trembling hands. He can hear the other kids’ excited high voiced mumblings; feel their tiny bodies slamming against his own.
The Heralds close the circle around the children, blades skyward, sweaty bodies raised as barriers.
Priests begin to sing blessings that he recognizes as last rites.
Boys and girls his age push him in their hurry to get to the front of line.
The three Gods lift their hands in the air simultaneously. “All journeys demand sacrifice,” pronounces Aphrodite.
“All journeys demand sacrifice,” echo the Heralds.
Aries brings his arm down on nothing.
The Heralds bring their swords down on boys and girls with a messy cleaver crunch. The children realize what is going at the last second and try to escape. Only when they run they slip on the ice and make themselves easier targets. Hey-You’s legs slide on the pavement and scratch up his knees. A little girl in a red rain suit falls on his back and he cannot seem to get her to leave him alone.
Mom. Dad. Help Me. Thousands of voices all saying the same words.
A blade flashes past Hey-You’s head and he decides he is safer on the ground. And the little girl on his back is dead.
He crawls through bodies, dragging the dead girl with him, hoping to find some place where the swords cannot reach him. He tries to keep crawling, only she is dead weight and he is not that strong and he keeps collapsing with her ontop of him. He catches view of his mother pushing through shocked parents, as he falls deep through the screen of falling bodies obstructing his view. Aries raises his hand once more and lets it drop.
The Heralds follow his example and the swords fall once more on top of the few surviving children. Hey-You holds his breath waiting for the adults to stop paying attention. More bodies are being stacked above him. Someone is tickling his feet. He bites his lips to prevent himself from laughing.
Before the first scream can come from the parents, Aries raises his blood soaked arm for silence. The swords go up in unison and the soldiers’ position themselves facing the crowd.
“Have faith in us,” says Aries.
“Have faith in us,” echo the Heralds.
“The Gods speak alone,” says Aries. “All crimes are punished.”
The Heralds are not quick to appreciate irony and echo their Gods.
Aries raises his sword again and it falls on air. The soldiers who have been standing behind the Heralds, bring down their swords on them. Blood spurts into the air and Priests crumple. Blood spattered broken adults lie next to the children they killed as a grotesque representation of the justice of the gods. The gods ask for both the sin and the punishment. Priests speak in morality. Gods demand only obedience. They also appear to ask for Hey-You to have a rather ugly hole in his side.
He is having quite a lot of difficulty staying awake.
Aries falls to his knees. “You must have faith in us,” he whispers, a butcher calmly lecturing pigs in an abattoir. “We will not lead you into madness.” Which is a strange thing to hear from a man covered in blood from head to toe. He motions to his men and his acolytes begin distributing food to the starving crowd. “I have seen this day in a dream and the snow shall not cease to fall. Those who stay we will be buried beneath its wrath. All must make to the port of Basileus. We will save you.”
He can hear his mother clawing through the bodies, whispering his name, pushing through dead as she pushed through snow only a few moments before. He tries to speak and finds himself without a voice. Someone is squeezing his leg and it is not his mother.
His hair is sticky, now his eyes are painted in blood, and he can feel movement. She is dragging him out of the mountain of writhing bodies, past clutching hands, injuring unfamiliar children, in her hurry to get to her own.
Hey-You features are as lifeless as his companions. She stares into the blankness, grabbing her sweater, frantically dabbing at the blood on his face.
“No one has died,” shouts Aries.
“No one has died,” echoes his soldiers.
Broken parents echo the cheer, tears gushing from their frightened eyes. Like balloons their sanity slowly slips away with their children’s cries.
She kisses his forehead, trembling, praying that he will once more draw breath. Kissing his cheeks, frantically trying to shake the life back into her boy. Begging for him to come back from the dead.
Her expression changes when the children rise from the ground, bodies soaked in blood, wounds somehow healed, staggering empty eyed towards the feet of the gods and goddesses who called for their death. It is clear from expressions on their divine faces that they were not expecting this.
The children no longer look children. Even without names, childhood only ends once.
“No one has died,” wails the soldiers, ecstatic, believing their mission to be blessed. The children let out a uniformly hideous shriek, horrified to find themselves alive and in so much pain.
Hey-You’s eyes open to his mother frantically wiping the blood from his face. She touches his chest but cannot find his wound that has covered him in so much blood.
He cannot understand what is happening.
“The gods saved you,” whispers his mother in awe.
Hey-You curse is to make miracles and never know it.If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!
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